WashU hosts regional STEM summit

St. Louis area employers are looking for a workforce well versed in technology for currently available jobs and those in the future. To meet that need, educators are working to nurture interest in STEM education from the earliest ages.

Panel attendees included interns from MasterCard's Operations & Technology Headquarters. Photo credit: @sidranaseer

To discuss the state of STEM education and initiatives in the St. Louis area, about 80 educators and people in business gathered June 22 at Washington University in St. Louis at a panel hosted by the WashU Technology & Leadership Center and the Institute for School Partnership.

"What we learned is that there are a lot of good things going on, but from a community perspective, they aren't really visible, and it's hard to coordinate them," says Johnnie Foster, director of the Technology & Leadership Center. "But there is progress being made."

Foster says participants spoke of a need for regional coordination or clearinghouse of STEM activities as well as mentoring and coaching opportunities for students of all ages with an interest in STEM.

Listen to audio about the event

The panel is the latest in WashU Engineering's regional leadership in STEM education. Most recently, WashU has teamed with LaunchCode, a nonprofit startup cofounded by WashU Engineering alumnus Jim McKelvey to provide free coding courses that prepare people for a career in technology. This summer, LaunchCode is holding a course on WashU's Danforth Campus and using curriculum designed by Ron Cytron, professor of computer science & engineering.

Perhaps the longest-standing partnership for regional STEM education is the University of Missouri-St. Louis/Washington University Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program, which began in 1993 and offers a bachelor's degree in civil, electrical or mechanical engineering from the University of Missouri. The upper-division engineering courses are offered in the evenings and on Saturdays on the WashU campus and are taught by WashU faculty, allowing students to co-op during the day at local engineering firms. In its first 20 years, the program graduated nearly 650 students.

WashU students studying in STEM fields have the opportunity to put their education into practice through research partnerships with well-established companies. Students also have ample opportunities to work in entrepreneurial partnerships with local startups as well as launch their own companies through various competitions, including the Discovery Competition in the School of Engineering & Applied Science; the Skandalaris Center Cup and the Social Enterprise and Innovation Competition (SEIC), sponsored by the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and local competitions such as Arch Grants.

Many student organizations also volunteer in the community to promote STEM among local K-12 schools and independent programs. The National Society of Black Entrepreneurs (NSBE), the Society for Women Engineers (SWE) and TESLA all work within local schools and with other groups, such as the Girl Scouts, to share STEM throughout the St. Louis area, while Engineers Without Borders works to share STEM worldwide.

The Institute for School Partnership recently joined 100Kin10, a national network coordinating and accelerating efforts to bring 100,000 new excellent science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers into schools by 2021. As a part of 100Kin10, the ISP will double the number of K-12 teachers and educators involved in STEM professional development programs between 2016 and 2020 by expanding its current programs locally and designing two new national initiatives for K-8 teachers.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 88 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, more than 900 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.